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China's Olympic focus undergoing change


08-22-2016 05:00 BJT

Full coverage: 2016 Rio Olympics

As the Rio Olympics wind down, many observers have noticed a shift in the way the Games have been received in China. While the public previously seemed to place great emphasis on the country's ranking in the medal table, that has all gone by the wayside in Brazil. Instead, fans are paying a lot more attention to the individual stories of the athletes themselves.

"I've exhausted the primordial power. This is my best performance ever, and I have no further expectation for finals." The outspoken swimmer Fu Yuanhui became a social media hit in China, with a one-minute interview on the second day of Rio Olympics. For her, winning gold for her country doesn't seem so important.

"My goal at the Rio Olympics is not to win medals, but to improve my own performance, because I believe improving myself is the most important thing," Fu said.

In the final, she won a bronze medal, and huge public applause for her attitude toward the medal.

"I think people should not treat getting the gold medal as the first thing to focus on when they watch Olympics. I'm inspired by the athletes themselves, and their individual efforts they put in to challenge themselves. They really affect how I feel about myself in my daily life and my sports activities," Beijng resident Wang Guoyuan said.

This emphasis on an athlete's individuality would have been quite controversial, if not unacceptable in China, just a few years ago. At previous Olympics, Chinese media outlets would put medals tables on their front pages, and the public believed a higher ranking meant stronger national power. But some analysts say the reason behind the decline in people's gold mania is not just a result of stronger confidence in their nation.

"There are so many, more runners, cyclists in this country day by day. This has come as a healthy social trends. Only through participation in sports can you understand it more clearly and link yourself to the Olympians more closely," Score Sports Founder Yan Qiang said.

At the 2012 London Olympics, China's first ever world champion hurdler, Liu Xiang, crashed into the first hurdle. He limped to the final line and kissed the last hurdle, winning sympathy around the world, but criticism in China for losing a medal he should have won.

Analysts say this year's more casual attitude toward winning gold medals shows that the Chinese fans are gradually grasping the true spirit of Olympic Games. But many in China still see winning gold as the most important task for Olympic athletes, because they say the athletes have been trained with huge amounts of taxpayer money.

China still maintains a whole-nation sports system, which cost over 40 billion yuan, or 6 billion US dollars last year. Most funding comes from the government, which covers the spending for athletes' training, competition and food and accomodation.

"Nothing in China can be delivered without the government. If you say, for example, give the sports back to the public, will the public be mature enough to accept it all, especially some disciplines which are not so popular? Will Chinese public accept if we lag 10 or 20 ranks behind on the medal table? I don't think so," Yan said.

Now, a rising individual emphasis, under a state-funded system, Chinese athletes and the public are growing together to live up to the Olympic spirit.

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